When I was a new parent, I assumed love meant protection.
I researched the safest car seats, made sure the crib was secure and double-checked the bath water was the right temperature every night.
I believed my job as a mother was to keep my children healthy and safe.
That well-constructed façade soon started to crumble. My husband and I lost a baby to miscarriage, then twins after their premature birth. While we thank God every day for the five sons we are raising, we have also learned the hard way that there is so much suffering we cannot protect our children from. We cannot protect ourselves as parents, either.
If you’re like me, you might assume God’s love should mean protection. Yet God’s love is mysterious and multi-faceted. Sometimes it protects; other times it prepares.
In the months since I was diagnosed with cancer, I have felt an overwhelming sense of God’s providence. The road ahead was prepared for me in astonishing ways, from friends who helped me find the right doctors to professional disappointments that turned out to give the precise space I needed to step back from my work.
Yet what I wanted instead, what I pleaded for while I wept in the night, was for God to protect me. To shield me from this suffering and let this cup pass me by.
Wasn’t God our defender, deliverer and shield?
Over time God began to open my eyes to the wider truth that that love can mean many things. Protecting those we adore from any kind of harm. Or preparing them for the pain that might arrive.
The latter is what parenting is. The former is what we wish parenting could be.
I cannot bubble-wrap my children to guard them from life’s bumps and bruises. Even if I kept them safe at home, locked the front door and never let them outside where injuries, accidents, diseases or disasters might destroy them, they would never lead a full life. Complete protection would mean the loss of their freedom. In truth, my children could not flourish if their safety was my only goal. The mystery of free will means the same for all of us as humans. So as a parent, I let my children step out into a world that will wound them. God does the same for us.
Scripture promises that God counts the hairs on my children’s heads, watches over while they slumber, gathers their tears in a bottle, and sends them new mercies each morning. Even when God permits suffering or sorrow to befall my beloveds, a way through the wilderness will still be made for them.
Today we sent our oldest child off to high school. Next week our youngest will start preschool. Back-to-school is always a bittersweet reminder that parenting brings a succession of goodbyes.
But we have been readied for this time, too. Love protects, prepares and pushes us to trust beyond what we can see.
Laura Kelly Fanucci is an author, speaker, and founder of Mothering Spirit, an online gathering place on parenting and spirituality.